Gimme an S!: A History of the Block Letter S

The Block "S" was adopted by the SU Athletics Governing Board in 1893 as the highest award given to an athlete at SU. Initially, the "S" was granted to those who participated in three games of baseball or football. These rules were amended and formally adopted in 1902 and listed in the Athletic Governing Board's by-laws. The rules would undergo additional minor changes through the early decades of the 20th century, but would essentially require that those men receiving the award needed to be starting members of the football or baseball team, or a member of the first boat of the varsity crew. Members of the track team who scored a certain percentage of points at intercollegiate meets were also given the award, as were the managers of these four teams.

Those athletes not eligible for a Block "S" may have been granted an "aSa". The "aSa" was given to any members of the second string for football, baseball and crew, and track team members not meeting the point requirements of the Block "S". Members of the basketball team were also given the "aSa". Students who participated in inter-class sports, which were games played between the various graduating classes and resembled intermural more than varsity athletics, were given their class numerals to wear.

Over time, unique awards such as the "bSb" for basketball players and the "wSw" for members of the wrestling team began to evolve. It becomes evident through the photographs available in the Archives that there was no standardized logo representing the various sports at the university. The unifying factor was orange as the dominate color, but there was no official athletics logo during this era.

The 'S' worn by this Varsity baseball player must have been one of the earliest letters awarded in 1893. Varsity Baseball Team, <em>Onondagan</em>, 1894. [ARM Image 13-0007] The football season of 1894 was the first season where players were eligible for the Block 'S' award. Varsity Football Team, <em>Onondagan</em>, 1895. [ARM Image 13-0008] Most of the members of the 1896 track team scored enough points to earn their Block 'S'.  Varsity Track Team, <em>Onondagan</em>, 1896. [ARM Image 13-0009] As seen in this photograph from 1899, only certain members of the track team were awarded the Block 'S'. A Certain number of points needed to be scored by an athlete during particular meets in order to qualify to wear the 'S'. Varsity Track Team, <em>Onondagan</em>, 1901. [ARM Image 13-0005] The 1900 <em>Onondagan</em> yearbook titled this photo 'Men Who Wear the 'S'' though not all the athletes are wearing the Block 'S'. While the 'S' was the symbol of athletic achievement it was not, at this time, an official athletics logo worn by all athletes. Men Who Wear the 'S', <em>Onondagan</em>, 1900. [ARM Image 13-0020] This is an example of the award given to those who earned the Block 'S'. This one was presented to George O. Moore, member of the football team, in 1900. Block 'S' Award, 1900. [Archives DOC 53AA0010] The four members of the 1900 Paris Exposition Team received the Block 'S'. Paris Exposition Team, <em>Onondagan</em>, 1902. [ARM Image 13-0017] As captain of the 1903 track team, W.C. Lowe would certainly have earned his Block 'S'.  W.C. Lowe, c. 1903. [ARM Image 13-0012] Members of the basketball team were not eligible for a Block 'S' in 1903. Instead, they could qualify for a 'bSb' if they started in at least three intercollegiate games. Basketball Team, 1903-1904. [ARM Image 13-0011] This piece of football ephemera from 1904, possibly meant to be waved like a flag, displays the Block 'S'. Football Ephemera, 1904. [ARM 13-0013] The 'bSb' awarded to basketball players is seen on the sweaters of two of the members of the team from 1907-1908. Basketball Team, <em>Onondagan</em>, 1909. [ARM Image 09-1016] Varsity baseball players were eligible for a Block 'S' in 1909. Though we no longer have a varsity team at SU, baseball was one of the first sports the university competed in at the intercollegiate level. Varsity Baseball Team, <em>Onondagan</em>, 1911. [ARM Image 13-0014] In 1909, those rowers who competed at the Poughkeepsie crew race were eligible for the Block 'S'. Alternates for the Poughkeepsie crew would receive the 'aSa'.  Poughkeepsie Varsity Crew, 1909. [ARM Image 13-0015] Teams, especially the crew team, often enhanced the Block 'S' to distinguish their sport. Here, an oar identifies this Block 'S' as being worn by two members of the 1910 crew. Varsity Crew Members, Postcard, c. 1910. [ARM Image  13-0018] This card was an insert found in a cigarette pack. The athlete, most likely running track given his uniform, is proudly racing under the Block 'S'. Cigarette Insert, c. 1910s. [ARM Image 13-0006] This postcard from the 1910s depicts a co-ed cheering on the team with her Block 'S' flag. Co-ed Waving 'S' Flag, Postcard, c. 1910s. [ARM 13-0010] This leather pillow case, featuring the Block 'S' insignia, was probably used to cushion the seats in Archbold Stadium. The pillow is part of the William T. Hulse '14 Papers. Leather Pillowcase, c. 1914. [Memorabilia Collection] Basketball players would not receive the traditional Block 'S' until 1922. Until that time, players were granted the 'bSb', awarded only to members of the basketball squad. Basketball Team, 1914. [ARM Image 13-0019] Though not an official logo, the Block 'S' was still a symbol of SU. Though not part of a varsity sport in 1915, these three male Cheerleaders are adorned with the Block 'S' to show their support of the teams competing for SU.  Cheerleaders, <em>Onondagan</em>, 1917. [ARM Image 13-0021] Team managers were also granted the Block 'S' award; this included the Commodore of the Navy (crew). W.G. Shaw filled that role in 1919. Block 'S' Award, 1919. [Archives DOC 53AA0011] The 1920 program for the Block S Dinner, which began in the 1910s as a formal venue for honoring the athletes receiving the Block S, featured the 'Block S Song' lyrics. Block S Dinner Program, 1920. [Archives DOC 53AA0013] 1922 was the first year that members of the Basketball and Lacrosse teams were eligible for a Block 'S' award. Varsity Lacrosse Team, 1922. [ARM Image 11-0112]